A press conference was held in Tokyo to announce 3 new matchups for the 2004 New Year's Eve show,to be held at Saitama Super Arena. Sakuraba versus Silva. Kondo versus Henderson. Gomi versus Pulver. Each of these matches will reflect this year's theme of "destiny." However, something happened at the press conference...
DSE President Sakakibara,Yuki Kondo,Takanori Gomi take the stage...but Kazushi Sakuraba, the man destined to face Wanderlei Silva for the 4th time,is nowhere to be seen. This mystery was quickly unraveled. In the opening of President Sakakibara's greetings,he announced that Sakuraba had "rudely overslept". Moreover,he was "still sleeping." Apparently,a call had come in from the Takada Dojo manager a few minutes before the press conference,saying that Sakuraba wouldn't be there in time. DSE officials were amused,"I had forgotten for a long time that he's the kind of person to do this kind of thing." So,without Sakuraba's presence, the press conference began.
To start off,President Sakakibara explained how the three matchups to be announced today came about. Regarding Pancrase's ace, Yuki Kondo,who has fought in the last New Year's Eve show,versus Dan Henderson,Sakakibara was filled with confidence,"This is a battle for the top of the Middleweight division. When these two match up,you can definitely expect an exciting and speedy match up,even if you are not a hard-core fane. We take a lot of pride in this card."
DSE included Henderson,Murilo Ninja and Mauricio Shogun as possible candidates for Kondo this time. It was Kondo himself that chose to fight Dan Henderson. "We lined up very active Middleweight fighters,but Kondo chose the highest peak",Sakakibara highly praised Kondo's spirit.
"It is an honor for me to fight again in the New Year's Eve event," Kondo commented. "I'm especially motivated because Henderson is a great fighter with solid strength and a solid record. I want to win so I can show that I should be in next year's Middleweight Grand Prix." On his reasoning in choosing Henderson out of the three candidates,"He's someone that I've been thinking about for a long time. I think he has the best record and the martial arts-related people around me rate him very highly. I've always heard about him so I was interested and wanted to fight him out of the three. He's speedy and all of his moves are quick so I'll have to be just as fast. Without limiting myself to striking,I want to make it a match worth watching. In the end,I want to win with decisively with either a submission or KO."
According to President Sakakibara,he approached Henderson directly at the PRIDE Auditions held recently in America. "He thinks a lot of Kondo,too. Fighting for him is an honor,I think,and we both agreed to make a good fight. His last fight with Nakamura was the first in a year. It ended with an accident and Henderson said that he just wants to fight as soon as possible. I expect a fight where neither fighter will give up ground."
"This was a tough match up to make," Sakakibara continued about the Gomi-Pulver match. "There are a lot of fighters we'd like to have Gomi fight but not so many that the fans would find worthwhile. It was difficult to choose a fighter. Neither Gomi nor we wanted to have a fight where he just goes out to show his face and beat an easy fighter. That's why we put out offers to top athletes such as Pulver and Buscape,and Pulver accepted. It was good of Gomi to accept a fight with a tough opponent on the special day of New Year's Eve."
"When I was about 23,Pulver was the UFC Champion and I really wanted a match with him," Gomi said. "It took three years for both of us but we are both on winning streaks and it's time to decide who's the best Lightweight. I'm going to win and make the fans go wild. I wanted to fight him when I was the Shooto Champion and he was the UFC Champion but I couldn't. After that,both he and I were in bad condition or losing but getting closer together. I'm happy to fight someone who I know his good times and bad times. It's because Pulver got back on track in a fight in Japan that I will be able to fight him in Japan this time,in the greatest event. Pulver fights with a boxing style and I'm confident in my punches but I'm thinking of nothing but taking him out with MMA. There's no need to fight just with a boxing style or muay thai in an MMA match. Whether it's on the ground or standing up,I'm going to crush him."
"Both of your opponents are highly rated overseas," Sakakibara said to Kondo and Gomi. "Take advantage of this and make everyone in the world know your name. Fight like everything is on the line."
Before explaining Sakuraba and Silva's match up,President Sakakibara explained why there was no match made between Sakuraba and Kiyoshi Tamura. "We negotiated very hard for a fight with Tamura. However,we realized that Tamura has many strong feelings that don't match with Sakuraba's. There are many things they feel about having each other as an opponent and it's not so simple as just saying that everything's okay now,let's fight. They are rivals but they also have a senior-junior relationship. I think there are many thoughts whirling around in Tamura. It's unfortunate that we didn't succeed this time but we won't give up and I think a time where these two fight in the PRIDE ring will eventually come. DSE will do our best to make it happen."
Last year,the dream card slipped away but this year,another "destiny" will be realized due to Sakuraba's strong desire,according to Sakakibara. "Saku decided quickly that he was willing to fight Tamura but we had him wait a month (due to negotiations). We can't make him wait any longer. We then made an offer to Silva because Saku really wanted to have a 4th match against him. Silva also came from behind,and eventually surpassed,Saku and seems to have a special feeling about fighting Sakuraba in PRIDE. Their roles are reversed this time but Silva agreed and said that he would accept the request for a 4th match."
Sakakibara also revealed that there were many thoughts about the match up. There has never been a 4th match in PRIDE history and the last 3 matches all ended in Sakuraba's loss. There were worries that (another loss) could make the fans feel bad,although it is supposed to be a special day. Sakakibara also said that he understood the fans that say "What,again?" and "It's impossible." "I wanted to match him up with Tamura but Saku has gained a 4th match (with Silva). This is also destiny. He said that he's in good shape he really wants to fight Silva. As DSE,we want to bet on Saku one more time. Maybe he will bring us a miracle. I think this is the card that can bring the theme of "destiny" to life."
Sakuraba probably put a lot of thought into requesting a 4th match. He chose a fight that will put all the eyes of Japan on him on New Year's Eve. There's no doubt that Sakuraba is confident and will have some trick up his sleeve for a victory. Of course,he must know that if he loses,Silva will become an unbeatable opponent for him. Regardless,the gate has been open and the only thing left is for Saku to see if he can make a miracle.
"I'm going to talk to Tamura about fighting in the Middleweight Grand Prix,schedule for April,and I'll speak with a big voice," Sakakibara explained. "He won't be fighting on New Year's Eve because it won't be against Saku. No fight other than that would match the "destiny" theme.